March on Washington 2020: What to expect, how to stay safe amid the coronavirus pandemic

On August 28, thousands of people are expected to attend the Get Your Knee Off Our Necks Commitment March on Washington, a demonstration honoring the 57th anniversary of the March on Washington, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” Speech.

The march, which organizers say will “demonstrate our advocacy for comprehensive police accountability reform, the Census, and mobilizing voters for the November elections” will begin with a rally at the Lincoln Memorial. Participants in Washington D.C. will then march to the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial in West Potomac Park, next to the National Mall.

Rev. Al Sharpton, Martin Luther King III, a son of the late civil rights icon, attorney Benjamin Crump and the families of George Floyd, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Ahmaud Arbery, Jacob Blake and Breonna Taylor, are expected to participate in Washington.

This is one of several marches that have marked the anniversary of the 1963 civil rights demonstration where King spoke, but this year’s demonstration will likely look a lot different due to the coronavirus pandemic.

 Here’s what you need to know about attending the march safely:

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Plan ahead

Let your friends and family know you’re going to the march and consider bringing someone with you. Decide a location and time where everyone can meet up if your group gets separated.

How to get there and where to stay

Buses are traveling from around the country to come to the march, but organizers will be restricting access to buses from states or cities that are considered COVID-19 hot spots. You can find a bus schedule here. March organizers have also partnered with hotels in the area to provide discount hotel rooms for participants. More information on lodging availability can be found here

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Review coronavirus travel restrictions and precautions

 If you are traveling to Washington, D.C., review all coronavirus travel and health related information online.

In late July, with local infection numbers rising, Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser ordered anyone traveling or returning to Washington from a virus hot spot to self-quarantine for 14 days. The list of hot spots is revised every two weeks and the newest list, released on Aug. 10, included these 29 states.

Organizers will distribute masks, have thermometer check-in stations and practicing social distancing. NAN leaders say they will provide hand sanitizer and will require participants to wear masks.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released guidelines in June for safely attending events and gatherings.

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Prep your smartphone

Fully charge your phone before the march, but in case it dies, write emergency contact numbers on an index card or even your arm. To make it easier to communicate at the march, consider downloading an app such as FireChat, which allows you to instant message without using data or Wi-Fi within a 200-foot range. Organizers are encouraging people to use #NANMOW2020 to share images and videos from the protest on social media.

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What to wear

Remember: we’re still in a pandemic. Be sure to wear protective gear including face masks to prevent the spread of coronavirus and bring hand sanitizer.

Don’t wear contact lenses and bring goggles to protect your eyes in the unlikely event that tear gas is used. Many activists also recommend bringing a scarf or clean bandana because holding a damp scarf to your nose can help you breathe.

Wearing long sleeves and pants can protect your skin from tear gas or pepper spray, but weather in Washington, D.C., can be hot and humid in August, so be sure to check the forecast ahead of time, dress appropriately and wear comfortable shoes.

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What to bring

Bring only the essentials: your ID, cash, a bank card, your phone and a portable charger if you have one. It’s also important to stay hydrated and full, so bring a plastic water bottle and pack shareable, healthy snacks. 

And don’t forget your signs! Flags are allowed, but cannot be on a pole. Posters and signs can’t have wooden sign posts, but organizers encourage people to use cardboard sign posts.

If you’re not a citizen, it’s also a good idea to bring your immigration papers. Although arrests are unlikely at a peaceful march, the ACLU recommends bringing $100 and at least three day’s worth of essential medicine.

Folding chairs are not permitted but there will be a modified route for the march for people with disabilities or limited mobility.

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How to interact with law enforcement

Demonstrators at large, peaceful marches like this typically don’t interact with the police unless they are doing something illegal like purposefully blocking a road. Organizers say they are not planning to engage in any acts of civil disobedience.

If you get stopped by the police, the ACLU says you should “stay calm, be polite, and don’t run.” Some states have “stop and identify laws,” meaning that if a police officer asks you to identify yourself you must give your name. Keep your hands visible and ask if you are free to leave.

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Know your rights

Whether you’re a citizen or not, the First Amendment protects your constitutional right to demonstrate peacefully. You also have the right to photograph or film police. Police can pat you down to make sure you’re unarmed, but unless you are under arrest, you can refuse to consent to a search.

If an officer says you are under arrest, don’t resist even if you don’t think you’ve done anything wrong. You can ask why you’ve been arrested, otherwise you have the right to remain silent.

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How to deal with counterprotesters

Remember that counterprotesters have rights, too. As long as they are not physically interfering with the main demonstration, they can attend the event and speak out. Police will generally keep the two groups separated, and it’s best not to engage with counterdemonstrators, according to the ACLU.

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What you can do if you can’t attend the D.C. march

There will be a livestream of the march on NAN’s website. Sharpton, one of the organizers, has asked some participants to join satellite marches planned in states that are considered hot spots for COVID-19. Sharpton’s civil rights group, the National Action Network, is working with its local chapters to hold commemorations in Kentucky, South Carolina and Texas, where outdoor jumbo screens will display a live simulcast of the rally in Washington. 

Rachel Noerdlinger, Sharpton’s spokeswoman, said NAN’s local chapters will host sister marches Friday in Columbia, South Carolina; Birmingham, Alabama; Miami; and Milwaukee.

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The NAACP, one of several partners in this year’s commemoration, last week launched a website for a virtual March on Washington. The site will livestream the Washington march, in addition to other programming leading up to and after the event.

The Movement for Black Lives, a coalition of more than 150 Black-led organizations that make up the broader Black Lives Matter movement, will also hold its virtual Black National Convention later in the evening. 

Contributing: Niquel Terry Ellis and Adrianna Rodriguez, USA TODAY; The Associated Press

Follow N’dea Yancey-Bragg on Twitter: @NdeaYanceyBragg

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: March on Washington 2020: How to attend, coronavirus precautions